Voice Actor Extraordinaire Jim Cummings on Star Wars, Pooh, and Talking with Himself

Legendary voice actor Jim Cummings will appear at Disney’s Star Wars Weekends, May 24 – 26, 2013, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I jumped at the chance to speak with Jim Cummings because his voice acting resume includes not only Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but the voices of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and 100s of other Disney, Warner Brothers, and DreamWorks characters.  Continue to listen to and read-along with Jim Cummings’ thoughts on Star Wars, his illustrious voice acting career, as well the plans for Clone Wars pirate Hondo Ohnaka to take over Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Update June 4, 2013

The Disney Parks blog featured a video recap of Jim Cummings appearance at Star Wars Weekends.

Original article and interview from May 22 follows below…

Voice Actor Jim Cummings

Click on the “play” button below to listen to the complete interview with Jim Cummings

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In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a HUGE Star Wars fan – mostly of the original trilogy, but haven’t kept up with all the episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  I didn’t know Jim Cummings voiced a Star Wars character, nor was I familiar with Hondo Ohnaka.  I admitted my ignorance, and humbly asked Jim to describe Hondo Ohnaka for us (complete with a little voice sampler of the character; you have to listen to the audio).  “I’m sorry to hear about your terrible loss at being unfamiliar with the Amazing Hondo,” Jim replied, “he’s truly one of my favorite characters.”

Hondo Ohnaka from "Star Wars: The Clone Wars"

Hondo Ohnaka "Scourge of the Space Lanes" TM & © 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

 

Cummings described Ohnaka as a loveable rogue, adding, “is Hondo a good guy or a bad guy?  The answer is yes.”  Hondo was leader of a band of pirates, kidnapped Count Dooku as well as Jedis Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, and later fought beside the Jedi to defeat Darth Maul.  Jim thinks of Hondo as the “pirate with a heart of gold.”

As a Star Wars fan, Cummings was thrilled to have his own small part in George Lucas’ Universe.  He relayed a conversation with Star Trek’s Jonathan Frakes where the former Enterprise first officer noted, “anything that starts with Star is a good franchise, and if I had my druthers, I’d take Star Trek anytime.” To which Cummings amended, “and if I had my druthers I will take Star Wars: Clone Wars anytime too.”

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Star Wars: The Clone Wars TM & © Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

 

Star Wars revealed earlier this year that The Clone Wars animated series has ended, but just this week Star Wars announced a new animated series called Star Wars Rebels coming in Fall 2014.  I asked Jim Cummings if he might be involved in the new series.  He was coy, and said we’d have to wait and see.  However, when asked if he could play any character in the Star Wars Saga he quickly replied, “Salacious Crumb… or I’d make a pretty frightening Princess Leia… I think I can find a bagel or a few Danishes around here somewhere.”

"A Most Bold Adventure" by artist James Hance

"A Most Bold Adventure" by artist James Hance http://www.jameshance.com/

 

While Cummings happens to be appearing at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Star Wars Weekends, the voice work he’s most famous for is Winnie the Pooh and Tigger.  It was 1987 when Jim Cummings started voicing Winnie the Pooh, adding Tigger in the early 1990’s.  I asked if it was difficult to step into the role of such iconic and beloved characters.  Cummings replied,

When you’re picking up an established character, job one is to get right back down to the voice print of the original, recreate that as best you can, layer in the personality and quirks, timing and rhythm and lilt to the voice, the mental outlook, and just gear it towards what everyone has come to know and love.  As time goes on, little things develop, and you put your own little spin on it here and there.

WINNIE THE POOH

Winnie the Pooh ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

Cummings loved the return of Winnie the Pooh to movie theaters in the summer of 2011 calling it “one of the best things that I’ve ever had the privilege of working on.”  He gushed about the breath-taking animation describing each still as suitable for framing.  “I’m very, very, very proud of it,” he said, “and I’m nuts about that 100 Acre Woods as well.”  Although he mentioned he hoped the “marketing genius” who scheduled the film’s release the same weekend as the final Harry Potter movie has found other employment.

Owl and Tigger

Owl and Tigger ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

The choice to become a voice-actor was a conscious decision and career Cummings pursued, not something he happened to fall into.  Jim elaborated,

Since I was 4, I was always going around the house making weird noises and doing impressions, and I was always in a lot of plays – it was always a good outlet for my imagination and creativity.  I was always a character actor.  The things that used to get me kicked out of class as a child, I ended up making a really good living at, so I guess the joke’s on Sister Mary Agnes.

Scar in THE LION KING

Scar (voice by Jeremy Irons; singing voice Jim Cummings) ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

In addition to speaking rolls, Jim Cummings has musical abilities and often sings in films too.  He chuckled, “I jokingly say, I’m a stunt singer.  A lot of actors can’t sing, a lot of singers can’t act, I don’t do either, so they let me do both.”  He has sung for Christopher Lloyd in Anastasia and Danny DeVito in Hercules, but the biggest film was singing “Be Prepared” for Oscar winner Jeremy Irons in The Lion King.  Cummings disputes internet reports he stepped in when Irons developed vocal difficulties explaining,

Without telling tales out of school, I’m not entirely sure that he [Irons] was a singer, per se.  Someone said, you can hear every Marlboro he ever smoked.  He’s an amazing, astonishing actor, but, a lot of actors don’t sing.  I was very fortunate and snuck in on that one.  I got a lot of Platinum out of that one.

Over the course of his career, Jim Cummings has voiced over 600 different characters, and I asked if it was difficult to keep them all straight?  He replied,

I don’t think so, because I don’t know that I do keep them all straight.  Some of the standards, Darkwing Duck, Tazmanian Devil, Bonkers, Don Karnage, King Louis, Pooh, Tigger, Catdog… there’s a lot of them out there, Ray from “Princess and the Frog,” they’re just so dominant or prominent in my head that I don’t have to search too hard… it probably helps that we’re schizophrenic.

I imagined Jim Cummings voicing Pooh and Tigger, and wondered if he did both simultaneously in conversation with himself.  I didn’t wonder long as Jim quickly jumped into a dialogue between his two most recognizable voices [you have to listen to the audio].  Afterwards, Cummings explained he used to ping-pong back and forth between Pooh and Tigger in recording conversations, but now records each track separately (while the voices are always prevalent in his head).

Ray from "Princess and the Frog"

Ray (voiced by Jim Cummings) from "Princess and the Frog" ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

I couldn’t end our conversation without asking Cummings if he had a favorite character to voice.

Well, Pooh and Tigger are kind of off to the side in their own little Pantheon.  They’re the evergreens; it’s easy to say that they would be my favorites, but I have too many to stop there.  Darkwing’s got his own groove, and my buddy Don Karnage from “Talespin,” always very fond of that character.  And Hondo Ohnaka is way up there.  He’s really had a wonderful reaction from the fans and people really get a kick out of him, and I do too!  Certainly Ray from “Princess and the Frog”… and Mr. Bumpy… I mean, that’s the problem, I hate answering the question because I’ll start going and then I’ll get about 10, 15, 20…  hold on, that’s too many.

2013 Disney's Star Wars Weekends map: Week 2Click here for a larger, printable version of the 2013 Disney’s Star Wars Weekends Week 2 map

Getting back to Star Wars Weekends, I asked if there were any special plans for guests visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Cummings gave this chilling reply, so be warned…

Well, I know for a fact that Hondo will be taking over the park.  But he promises… I think… to give it back in a week or two.  He’s just going to do a little pillaging, a little plundering, maybe get some good meals in him, then he’ll be off.  I promise.

In addition to Jim Cummings, fellow voice-actor and Clone Wars star James Arnold Taylor is one of the celebrity co-hosts for Disney’s Star Wars Weekends, and also performs a highly entertaining one-man show during the event.  I wondered if Jim had any plans for a duel of voices with James Arnold Taylor, a voice-actor throw-down of sorts.  Cummings laughed,

Oh no, not that I know of.  James is a giant.  He’s one of the good guys.  I’m nuts about him.  He’s one of my vocal buds to be sure.  He’s THE Force to be reckoned with himself.

Hondo Ohnaka from "Star Wars: The Clone Wars"

Hondo Ohnaka "Charming to the Last" TM & © 2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

 

Jim Cummings heads down to Disney’s Star Wars Weekends with his family including three of his four daughters, and, as we ended our conversation, offered this final piece of advice as a traveling dad.

Don’t forget the Kleenex, don’t forget the wipes, bring a couple extra spare waters, and always remember before we get in the car – the important question.  Who has to potty?

Thanks Jim Cummings, voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Star Wars pirate Hondo Ohnaka, and 100s more, for taking the time to talk with us here at Adventures by Daddy.  For more of our coverage of Disney’s Star Wars Weekends, be sure to check out John Saccheri’s videos direct from this year’s event.  To keep up with family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, please follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.